Friday, 15 January 2010

Book Review: Epiphany of the Long Sun: The Second Half of the Book of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe

Epiphany of the Long Sun, an omnibus edition comprising Calde of the Long Sun and Exodus from the Long Sun, brings Gene Wolfe's meandering epic to a close. (see my review of the first two novels contained in Litany of the Long Sun, here) Maybe I shouldn't even attempt to review this book considering I've only read it once. Here lies a major problem I personally have with Gene Wolfe's work; to fully appreciate him as every reviewer points out you need to re-read his novels. I confess I'm a slow reader (Epiphany takes even longer to read then most books due to its trickiness) and the backlog of fiction and non-fiction waiting for me is immense; I do not have the time to re-read, only years afterwards when the memory of the book has faded. But this of course is my problem not Gene Wolfe's and Epiphany (and the whole series) is without any doubt brilliant literature disguised as generic science fiction. It has many characters , human, animal and mechanical, encompassing politicians, priests, nuns, robot soldiers and servants, spies, thieves and prostitutes, who are each vividly portrayed. The culture and religion, (which involves animal sacrifice to a pantheon of gods who are in fact computer persona), of an immense cylindrical synthetic planet called the Whorl, originally from Earth and now travelling through interstellar space, is also vibrantly detailed. The plot centred on a disillusioned priest and reluctant figurehead of the city state of Viron, Calde Silk, is complex, as political intrigue overlaps with civil war and insurrection. The last book, Exodus of the Long Sun ends as the title implies with escape from the Whorl for some of the characters, linking the plot with its major theme of a breakout from both a confining artificial environment and the falsities of a manufactured religion.

Overall The Book of the Long Sun is a slow, exhausting read. There is plenty of excitement but you have to be in tune with the author's cryptic style to get extra understanding. It sometimes lacks the imaginative richness and wide scope of Gene Wolfe's classic Book of the New Sun, the Whorl seems ordinary in comparison with his very alien Earth (Urth) of the very far future, but as the sequence progresses the more involved in it you become, lingering in your mind long after you have put the books down.

Postscript: The universe of the Long Sun books is I believe the same as The Book of the New Sun, but I am very unsure how they actually link up. If any reader of Underground Man knows any connections with the New Sun novels I would be very grateful.

For an in depth essay on The Book of the Long Sun, read Nick Gevers' article posted on Ultan's Library.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Book Review: Lost Girls by Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie

Alan Moore, writer of the ground breaking graphic novels, Watchmen and From Hell, here turns his considerable talents to erotica or pornography produced as art. His partner in this endeavour is his wife, the equally talented Melinda Gebbie, who provides the beautiful but sexually explicit drawings. The titular lost girls are the adult versions of three characters from classic children's fiction-Dorothy (Wizard of Oz), Wendy (Peter Pan) and Alice (Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.) They all meet by chance as guests at the exotic hotel Himmelgarten on the Austrian border, prior to the start of World War 1. Their meeting soon blossoms into a triangle of lust and friendship as they recount to each other their randy exploits-Alan Moore bases these on the plots of the original stories-while engaged in copious amounts of lesbian sex. This is marketed as classy erotica, but please don't think Lost Girls is softcore; it's very hardcore indeed, suffused with a genuine (porno)graphic explicitness and will be considered obscene by many.

But unlike boring formulaic porn made to make money, Lost Girls is something more then a cheap turn on. Melinda Gebbie's colourful, fantastical but also realistic art is based on many different types of late Victorian and Edwardian styles, complimenting its Fin-de- Siecle decadent feel. Alan Moore's writing is wonderfully overripe, the story and the stories within a story engrossing and most importantly it's more then about sex as a mere bodily function to be gawped at for visceral thrills (although there is a lot of that too!) It deals with the lose of innocence of the three 'lost girls'; combining a subtle feminist critique of male values with a literal 'make love not war' message; nor does it shy away from difficult subject matter such as child abuse. It's overriding theme though is the power and ecstasy of the sexual imagination which does not always relate to reality-what gets you going inside your head might not do the same if acted out in real life. As one character says: "Fiction and fact: Only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them."